21 Jun / Return of the Rudeboy / Heroes of Ska
Curated by fashion photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and fashion-industry creative director Harris Elliott, the event will focus on the rude boy from a sartorial point of view.
This figure originated in the streets of Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1950s, and came to represent young angry rebels who wore distinctively sharp sartorial styles such as suits, thin ties and pork pie hats.
The style was linked with music movements and was brought back into fashion in the ’80s with the Two Tone movement with bands such as The Selecter and The Specials who turned the rude boy into a symbol of multicultural Britain (and with the outcome of the recent European elections and the rise of extremist right wing parties, it’s maybe time to turn again to the rude boy not just as style icon…).
The exhibition will look at this figure through portraits and installations, focusing on the developments the rude boy style went through the decades (this style is currently incarnated at its best by tailor Sam Lambert) and will also be enriched by collaborations with several music producers and artists including iconic DJ Don Letts.
Rude boys often appeared at early ska nights employed as protection by producers or to cause trouble, and ska icon Prince Buster started his career as a rude boy. So, to pay respect to the music heritage behind the rude boy, I’m republishing today an interview entitled “Heroes of Ska” that I did in 2004 with The Skatalites’ Lloyd Brevett (1931 – 2012) for American publication Erasing Clouds. Enjoy.
Heroes of Ska (2004, by Anna Battista)
I didn’t even know that the music was going to be serious. I didn’t know it was going to go all over the world.
” Roland Alphonso, quoted in Solid Foundation – An Oral History of Reggae by David Katz
It’s an ordinary evening in 1964, but something very special is happening in a club somewhere in Jamaica. A band is playing at the Hi Hat Club in Rae Town. Their sound is new, their beat irresistible. They’re the Skatalites and their music is so powerful that they will soon become resident musicians at the Bournemouth Club, where Lee Scratch Perry will often join them on percussion. Though the Skatalites have just officially formed, some of their members have already played together since the late ’40s. The Skatalites’ line up in 1964 includes tenor saxophonist Tommy McCook, trombonist Don Drummond, bassist Lloyd Brevett, tenor saxophonist Roland Alphonso, alto saxophonist Lester Sterling, drummer Lloyd Knibb, trumpeter Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, rhythm guitarist Jerry Haines and pianist Jackie Mittoo. Alphonso, Knibb and Brevett knew each other since they were teenagers and used to play together at the Coney Island amusement park in Kingston, Jamaica. Alphonso and Sterling both started their career as musicians recording for Coxsone Dodd, while Drummond, Moore, Sterling and McCook attended the same school in the ’40s, the Alpha Catholic Boys establishment where they received their musical education. The Skatalites’ music will mark an era, their tracks such as “Guns Of Navarone”, “Ball Of Fire”, “Tear Up” and so on, will represent the sound of a new independent Jamaica.
Forty years have passed from that night in the Hi Hat Club. During these years Don Drummond, Tommy McCook and Rolando Alphonso died, the Skatalites disbanded, then reunited with other musicians, and finally resurfaced. In the new incarnation of the band, there are only three members who were part of the original line-up: Lloyd Brevett on double bass, Lloyd Knibb on drums and Lester ‘Ska’ Sterling on alto sax. Other members now are Devon James on guitar, Ken Stewart on keyboards (also the manager of the band), Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks on tenor sax, Kevin Batchelor on trumpet, Vin Gordon on trombone and Kim Miller, a new vocalist. Last year the Skatalites toured Europe and the States. In February they will do another gig in Matunick; then, possibly, they will start recording a new album. “I’m enjoying touring a lot,” Lloyd Brevett states, smiling. We are in the backstage of the Carling Academy in Glasgow, Scotland. Brevett is sitting on a battered sofa in the Skatalites’ dressing room. His wife Ruth is sitting next to him, random members of the band surround them, some are chatting, and some are having a drink and a rest after having played to a very enthusiastic audience. While Lloyd talks, his ornaments (pendants and rings) clink, his dreadlocks, now whitening, swish here and there, his eyes shine with a special sparkle of light…perhaps that same sparkle that shone in his eyes when the Skatalites started their career. “There was a good vibe tonight,” Brevett whispers to me in his Jamaican accent,
“There was a good vibe tonight,” Brevett whispers to me in his Jamaican accent, “but I think there is always a good vibe wherever and whenever the Skatalites play. The Skatalites never get tired or stressed. Nothing has changed since 1964, apart from one thing: wherever we go now on tour, anywhere in the world, there are more people who come to see us. More young people follow us either in Europe, the States, Russia or Japan, we have more fans and a worldwide consensus.”
Jamaican music first changed when Prince Buster introduced Count Ossie’s burru drumming in the track “Oh Carolina”. Burru drumming is characterised, as Geoff Parker and James Dutton write in the sleevenotes to the “Legendary Skatalites in Dub” album (Motion Records, 2002, 2003), by “the bass, funde and repeater drums, the larger bass drum marking time while the two smaller drums improvise in a call and response drum conversation.” Yet it was with the Skatalites that Jamaican music changed forever. The Skatalites practically created a new rhythm. “We were the first musicians who started ska, the very first,” Lloyd Brevett states. “We took the melody out of calypso and put it down to our beat. I know that there are people now claiming they started ska, but they didn’t. The Skatalites were the very first ska band. All these people who are playing ska now weren’t even born when we were playing. Roland Alphonso, Lord Tanamo, Lester Sterling and I started ska in 1957-58, it was born with us. We made the first session in 1959 on a two-track tape. At that time I played the stand-up bass that my dad had made for me in 1949 and we put a microphone on the bass to record its sound. That was The Skatalites’ very first music.” Founder of the Count Brevett Band in 1950, Brevett’s father usually created his own instruments and had taught his son how to play the bass. It can be said that he was one of the biggest musical influences in Lloyd’s life. “My dad was a very good jazz bassist, he was actually very good at playing also other instruments such as the saxophone,” Brevett remembers.
In 1958 Jamaica entered the Federation of the West Indies together with the twelve territories of the English-speaking Caribbean, but, at the 1961 referendum, people voted against the federation. In August 1962 Jamaica regained its independence. Brevett states ska is the voice of Jamaican independence and the Skatalites represent independence itself. “When we played for the independence right in Kingston, nearly ten thousand people came to see us,” he underlines.
In 1964, Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Monty Morris and Millie Small appeared at New York World’s Fair, backed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and they introduced the American audience to what they claimed was the purest and most exceptional ska. The thing is that the real ska wasn’t theirs; it was mastered by the Skatalites’, but they hadn’t been invited to the party. “At that time, our government sent off a set of musicians to New York,” Brevett explains, “Byron Lee was a sort of politician, he was into politics a lot, so he was chosen to go there while they tried to keep the Skatalites back.” Critics say ska finished when Don Drummond killed dancer Marguerita Mahfood. “Don Drummond had gone off his head and killed his wife, Marguerita on New Year’s Day 1965,” Brevett remembers, “Marguerita forgot to give him his medicines before going out to dance and when she came back he got off his head and killed her. Don Drummond was convicted and this event contributed to the end of the Skatalites.” After the Skatalites split up, Tommy McCook became the leader of Duke Reid’s band The Supersonics, whereas Roland Alphonso stayed with Coxsone Dodd at Studio One and later formed The Soul Vendors.